Tottenham Lack Creativity on and off the Pitch

Mel Gomes@@melstarsgContributor IIINovember 4, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20:  Andre Villas-Boas the Spurs manager reacts to events on the pitch during the UEFA Europa League group J match between Tottenham Hotspur and Lazio at White Hart Lane on September 20, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Going into yesterday's league match with Wigan Athletic, Tottenham were fourth in the table, but performances on the pitch suggested that was a false position.

Outplayed at home by QPR, hanging on against a Southampton team who had more of the possession and bereft of ideas against WBA and Norwich at the Lane, yesterday's defeat was in the cards.

Unlike Wigan's smash-and-grab two seasons ago when a Carlo Cudicni error handed the away side victory, they were worthy winners yesterday, with the 0-1 scoreline flattering Tottenham.

Wigan were comfortable in possession, playing neat and tidy football and getting behind Spurs to create three clear-cut chances in the first half before taking a deserved lead from the excellent Ben Watson. As Spurs huffed and puffed without ever looking like breaking down Wigan, the away side then always threatened to get a second with incisive breaks.

Tottenham in contrast showed no creativity. Unlike this time last season, not only is there none of the swaggering football that's was both breathtaking and attractive, there is little sense of any pattern of play.

The sale of Rafa van der Vaart, a player who could make the team tick as well as win matches with goals, assists and a superb mentality, becomes all the more baffling. At the time, it was the most disappointing departure since Chris Waddle went to Marseille and now it looks like negligent management.

With two years left on his contract, it's unthinkable the chairman wouldn't have kept Van der Vaart if his new head coach wanted him to stay. The decision to pick Gylfi Sigurdsson ahead of Van der Vaart in the opening game at Newcastle was indicative of the coach's judgement; both Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey can score goals if teams are creating chances, but so far neither look capable of dictating the tempo for those chances to come.

With little football coming from the centre, Spurs are much easier to defend against this season and there is now an over-reliance on Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale. Unlike at Old Trafford, Dempsey's advanced position meant Lennon and Bale had less space to come inside and were easier to double-mark.

Injuries haven't helped. Moussa Dembele would be in a first-choice XI and Scott Parker would not only make it harder for opposition teams to get behind the Spurs defence, his presence would raise the tempo on the pitch and lift the crowd off it.

But injuries are no excuse. Other Premier League sides with weaker squads are managing to dominate games, score attractive goals and get results, with David Moyes' Everton being a perfect example.

When Sandro was injured yesterday, and without a defensive midfielder on the bench, Andre Villas-Boas had the chance to be creative with his substitution and bring on Kyle Naughton at left-back and move Jan Vertongen into central midfield. As well as solidifying a midfield that Wigan were already passing through, Vertongen would have added leadership in the centre and allowed him, already a talisman, to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

But Villas-Boas has showed little invention in his changes, with a natural default to be cautious. It hasn't worked when winning home games against Norwich and West Brom or drawing against Chelsea, and his second sub when Spurs were losing yesterday also predictably failed.

Taking the in-form Jermain Defoe off transferred the negativity that Villas-Boas employs on the pitch into the stands. It seems a long way off from this Tottenham coach being complimented on "masterful substitutions" by BBC commentators, as Chris Hughton was against Spurs in the League Cup on Wednesday night.

The sign of a good manager is to get the best out of his resources, adapting formations dependent on his players and the opposition. Villas-Boas appears to be inflexible in this regard and that is a pretty fundamental part of the job.

Not only was there no nous used yesterday that could engineer a result from a poor performance, the football was so bad to watch it drew comparisons with the Gerry Francis era.

It's unclear if and when Villas Boas has a probation period, as many do with new jobs. If he has, the requirement to play a possession-based game of passing and moving football must surely be one of the directives he was given. And every Spurs season ticket holder will be urging him on to hit that target because the fare served up yesterday was dire.

The great first half at Old Trafford, the comfortable win at Reading and the results ground out against QPR and Southampton mean Spurs are still level on points with fourth-place Everton. But it is a mediocre league this year, and the fact that it is a five-point gap to both third place above Spurs and to 11th below is as telling as the uninspiring performances.

Tottenham were brave and correct to embark on change at end of last season after failing to finish in the Top Three. Villas-Boas' predecessor still has many fans, both in the stands and the media, but his tactical misjudgements at Arsenal, Everton and Aston Villa, coupled with his seeming ambivalence towards the club, cost him the job he was happy to sacrifice for the FA anyway.

The idea for strategic change from Tottenham Hotspur was positive in the summer, with the clear ambition to not be an also-ran. For it to work and Spurs to qualify for the Champions League this season, the tactical side needs to improve.

Performances after a quarter of a season suggest Tottenham may have gotten an emperor in a new suit and things need to pick up in the next five weeks.

Mel Gomes is the author of Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley, his journey following Tottenham Hotspur home and away in their return to the European Cup after an absence of 49 seasons. It includes tales of Diego Maradona’s one appearance at White Hart Lane, a North London Derby comeback, famous wins against both Milanese clubs, and concludes with an epilogue in May 2012.

Mel Gomes is also on Twitter.


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